You know you need to look professional and polished for your job interviews, but what's worth splurging on when it comes to clothing and accessories? What's over the top? What colors will attract your interviewer rather than turn her off?
Fashion experts, recruiters, and business leaders chime in with the top 10 wardrobe must-haves that will help you score that next job:
1. A suit that fits. Rachel Dotson, content manager of ZipRecruiter.com, says a suit should be at the top of your list. Not only that; it should also fit well: "You can have the nicest suit in the world but, if it doesn't fit properly, it won't matter," she says. "Suits that are too baggy make the job seeker look somewhat sloppy, while those that are too tight appear bulgy and uncomfortable."
It might be worth it to spend a bit more to ensure you get a well-cut suit, whether you're a guy or a gal.
2. Jewelry or accessories. Jewelry, watches, or accessories can add a little flair to your interview outfit, but don't go overboard. The piece should not overwhelm your outfit, and it should be age appropriate. Ladies, don't go for a necklace, earrings, AND bracelet. Pick two out of three.
3. A black pencil skirt. Ladies only, of course. A black skirt "is a staple because it is not only classic and flattering, but also because you can pair it with just about anything, making it very versatile and cost effective," explains Kayleigh Irby, vice president of business development at SoulShine Communications. Keep the length conservative, and make sure it fits you well. It may be worth it to splurge on the skirt since it is, as Irby says, so versatile and can be worn with different tops.
4. A leather portfolio. Accessories for your job interview don't stop with the ones you wear. Dianne M. Daniels, chief executive officer (CEO) of The DivaStyle Coach, Inc., says a leather (or leather-looking) portfolio, as well as a notepad and good pen are essential. "Taking notes during the interview and having a place to bring a clean copy of your most current resume, in addition to any letters of reference not included with your application will keep you organized, [and] indicate that you are serious about the position," she says.
5. The work-appropriate little black dress. "Every woman needs a little black dress for the office," explains Nicole Williams, founder and CEO for WORKS by Nicole Williams. "A form-fitting, knee-length, pencil-skirt silhouette can work wonders for your work wardrobe. You can dress it up or dress it down."
Again, fit is key here. The dress should be appropriate for your body type, and should be something you can wear in any office without feeling unprofessional.
6. A non-black suit. Men are never sure what color a business suit should be. According to David Elkus, president of eTuxedo.com, you should go with something functional, such as solid navy or charcoal, or with a sophisticated navy or charcoal pinstripe. "Why does this suit need to stay so basic? When you are interviewing your goal is to be heard and be accepted as competent in your field. Any other suit will detract from you or your message," he stresses. "You don't want your interviewer staring at that high-fashion, cutting-edge suit, you want the interviewer focusing on you and what you have to say."
Elkus also suggests buying the best suit you can afford, as even the quality will say something about you.
7. Polished shoes. Yes, of course you should wear dress shoes to a job interview, but make sure they're polished—not scuffed. They don't have to be new, but they should be well taken care of. Cheryl Lampard, founder and CEO of Style Matters International, suggests: "Closed-toe shoes that you can walk in; ensure the heel tips are not worn down. The devil is in the detail and down-at-heel shoes show lack of attention to detail."
8. A crisp dress shirt. Men and women will get more miles out of a neutral dress shirt in, say, white or light blue. It can be worn on its own or under a jacket, and can be accessorized many different ways. Avoid loud colors or patterns when choosing a dress shirt, and always, always, iron it well.
9. A manicure. Ladies, it's not necessary to drop $100 at the salon to ensure your hands are also dressed to impress. Trim your nails to just past your fingertips, and paint them in either in a neutral or a dark color (think brick red, not black.). Your nails shouldn't distract, but they shouldn't be ragged with leftover polish on them either.
10. Optional: Tie and pantyhose. Everyone's got their own opinion on whether a tie for men and pantyhose for women are still en vogue. Consider where you're interviewing. If it's a conservative place, opt for the accessory. If it's a more business-casual environment, wearing a tie or pantyhose may make you seem stuffy. And always trust your own comfort level. If a tie makes you feel claustrophobic, leave it in the closet.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.
Corrected on 07/20/2012: A previous version of this story misstated Nicole Williams’ position. She is the founder and CEO for WORKS by Nicole Williams.